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More than 20 operations later, she may finally walk Teen with spina bifida hopes to stride to 4-H fair


After seven hours of grueling surgery on her spine, the patient awoke and felt the good news -- right down to her toes.

"Right after the surgery, I could wiggle my toes," said Amanda Gail "Mandy" Kent. "I am really excited because I haven't been able to move my feet or legs for about a year and a half."

The 16-year-old Hampstead resident is no stranger to hospitals and operations. She has undergone 22 operations since she was born with spina bifida, a congenital defect that can result in partial paralysis. The most recent surgery, on July 14 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, was to remove cysts from her spine.

"The cysts press on my spine in different areas and prevent me from walking on my own," said Mandy.

With 50 sutures marking the incision in her back, Mandy is "up and about," said her mother, Donna Kent.

"The potential is there for her to walk," said Mrs. Kent. "We are so hopeful."

Mandy has been working with therapists at the Kennedy-Kreiger Rehabilitation Institute to get as much movement back as possible. She will remain there for a few more weeks and then return as an outpatient.

"Actually, my muscles hurt more than the sutures," she said. "I am still pretty weak but I'm making progress. I have been able to take several steps between the parallel bars. I just counted seven."

She also hopes to step on over to the Carroll County 4-H Fair, which opens today at the Agriculture Center. Mandy took to 4-H from the minute she got involved in it about seven years ago.

"I have gained so much self-confidence through competing in the different contests," said Mandy, who will be junior at North Carroll High next month.

A member and officer of the Deep Run Club, she also serves on the 4-H Teen Council and coordinates fair activities. Last year, her citizenship record book won the state prize and led to a trip to the national competition in Chicago.

Before entering the hospital, she completed this year's citizenship project -- a "huge" poster, detailing information on the presidential candidates and urging citizens to vote. She also made up sample ballots.

If her cactus plants have survived her absence from home, she plans to enter them, too.

"We are working with the staff at Kennedy to try to get her to the fair, if only for a day," said Richard Kent, Mandy's father. "Her projects are all ready to go, and I'll enter them for her. I know she would rather enter them herself."

4-H Extension Agent Robert M. Shirley said most projects are judged as the members enter them, allowing for interaction between exhibitors and judges.

"The students have a learning opportunity for quality judging," he said. "Each student takes the exhibit to the set of judges and they all discuss it together."

Mr. Shirley said often he must make exceptions. This year, two members are competing in the nationals in Missouri and want to exhibit at home. He also is "very aware" of Mandy's situation.

"Of course, we want to have her smiling face here, but we are

willing to make special arrangements for her."

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